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EXCLUSIVE - Digital transformation, mobility and efficiency at Parliament of NSW

Simon Chalmers, Director Information Services at Parliament of New South Wales (NSW), tells OpenGov about ICT strategy and innovation.  Mr Chalmers talks about the benefits being realised by the Parliament’s digital transformation program and emphasizes the importance of revitalising underlying platforms instead of adding layers on top of legacy systems.

Could you tell us about your role?

The role is wonderfully diverse, responsible not only for bringing technology to the NSW Parliament and its members, but also for producing and managing a very broad range of public information. 

Being the oldest legislature in Australia the information held by the Parliament spans from 1824 and includes a rich collection of historical documents recording decisions made when many parts of Australia and New Zealand were administered from NSW.  At the other end of the spectrum, today we produce and publish in near real time, Hansard transcripts which document current business as it is being debated in Parliament.

What are your primary areas of focus?

A primary focus is on making parliamentary information more accessible and timely including through mobile devices, digitisation, and public APIs.  A second focus is also on making the Parliament’s operations more efficient.  We are continually looking for efficiencies and challenging the status quo.

What kinds of projects are you working on right now?

With more information being produced and managed in native digital form, the Parliament is part way through a 3-year digital transformation program which is impacting on almost every aspect of operations. 

A particular challenge has been that many core business processes are tied to legacy systems which offer limited prospects as a long term digital platform.  The Parliament has been steadily working to transition to a new, future-proof platform which uses cloud-scale, API architecture.  The program has involved coordinating systems integration and development work outsourced to multiple vendors and substantial internal process change, all while maintaining business as usual during parliamentary sittings. 

Benefits from the program are starting to be realised.  Lead times for Hansard publication are down to 3 hours from the spoken word, parliamentary information is accessible via public APIs which delivers on a NSW Government’s ICT strategic commitment to open data, and measurable efficiency savings are also being realised.

Another project, which goes live very soon, involves expanding the range of mobile services available to members and staff.  More often these days, MPs and their staff engage with constituents while on the go and spend less time in their offices.  In the past, technology support for mobile work practices was limited to providing basic mobile access to personal email, and remote desktop services.  Many administrative processes have remained grounded in the paper-based world. 

We have been steadily working to improve mobile access to information.  For some time, the Parliament has offered BYO mobile device options via a secure Mobile Device Management platform.  The Parliament’s website and intranet have also been updated to work on mobile devices.  Finally, next month we will realise longer term plans to mobile-enable staff leave and time claim approvals.  This will not only serve an administrative convenience for members and staff but will also reduce back-office work for HR staff.

NSW Parliament exterior

Exterior of Parliament of New South Wales on Macquarie Street, Sydney

 (Image courtesy of Parliament of New South Wales)

Finally, the Parliament has a very substantial digitisation project under way.  Over 60,000 documents from the period 1824 – 1901 have been digitised and are in the final stages of being prepared for publication on the Parliament’s website later this year.  These documents cover all but the earliest period of settlement across most of Australia, New Zealand and Norfolk Island.  Many of these have never before been made public so this is a very exciting project.

Where are you storing your data?

Much of the information that the NSW Parliament produces and holds is specifically intended to be shared with the public, which makes it an obvious candidate for cloud storage. 

Some but not all of the Parliament’s data is currently stored in the cloud.  The Parliament has been an early adopter of cloud technology, with the organisation’s first use of cloud technology dating from 2004.

Is cybersecurity a major concern for you?

Cyber security is, or at least should be, a critical concern for every CIO.  A key issue, however, is when it comes to allocating budgets and resources, what proportion do you allocate to cyber security compared to deriving tangible business value from technology?  Most government CIOs also have to answer this question in the context of dealing with shrinking budgets each year, so it is a real challenge to get the balance right.

What is the situation with regards to cultural change in the context of digital transformation in your organisation?

Technology is only ever one piece of the puzzle. A significant amount of time and effort needs to be assigned to people and process management, to ensure that people are engaged and involved every step of the way.  This is a very significant component of the effort of any transformation project and it is very easy for everyone to underestimate the amount of time and effort required.  

At NSW Parliament, the main challenge is in ensuring sufficient focus can be maintained on project work to future-proof systems, while also recognising the heavy operational demands placed on people’s time while the Parliament sits. 
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